What went wrong for Rafael Benitez?

Rafael Benitez's reign at Real Madrid came to an end after just seven months and 25 games. The Spaniard's problems at the Bernabeu also represent the areas which new coach Zinedine Zidane will need to address.

Dressing room revolts

Benitez was brought in to add discipline to the Real dressing room after club president Florentino Perez believed his popular predecessor Carlo Ancelotti's soft touch was to blame for a trophy-less 2015. However, his combative style failed to win over some of Real's biggest stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos, who routinely continued to praise Ancelotti long after his departure.

Big game failures

To be sacked on a return of 17 wins and just three defeats from 25 games seems harsh on Benitez, but nowhere are the demands higher than at Real and Benitez paid for his inability to produce the results in the big games. Even aside from the 4-0 humiliation at home to Barcelona in November, Real failed to beat Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla and Valencia to fall four points behind Atletico in the title race.

Defensive tactics

Even when the results were favourable for Benitez early in his Real reign, he came under fire from the local media and the club's fans for his perceived negative tactics. Creative players like Rodriguez and Isco were marginalised. And Benitez could never find the right balance as when the goals did begin to flow after the return of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale from injury, they conceded 18 goals in his last 11 games in charge.

Off-field distractions

Apart from Real's problems on the field, Benitez had to front up at press conferences for a number of his stars' misdemeanours off it.

Benitez offered his full backing to Karim Benzema despite the Frenchman facing blackmail charges over a sex-tape involving international team- mate Mathieu Valbuena. Meanwhile, Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez was left out of Benitez's final game in a 2-2 draw at Valencia on Sunday - days after being pursued to the club's training ground by an unmarked police car and accused of speeding at up to 200kmh.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'What went wrong for Rafael Benitez?'. Print Edition | Subscribe